What’s the weak link when it comes to mobile media ministry? When it comes to actually showing mobile media, the weak link is your mobile device’s speaker. Unfortunately, most phone speakers are very weak and far too many tablets have underpowered speakers that, even worse, are positioned facing away from the viewer. When you are showing someone a ministry video with one of these devices and you add in city traffic, crying babies and other common distractions, the person viewing it oftentimes will have to choose between listening to the audio with the mobile device next to their ear or watching the video without being able to fully hear and understand what is going on. While any old set of headphones can help this situation when sharing with an individual, finding a good solution for sharing media to more than one individual poses a bit greater of a challenge.
With that in mind, I set out to examine the state the portable speaker market in order to find solutions that ensure that viewers get to fully experience and be immersed in the outreach media we share.
While it’s easy to spend $2-300 for a portable wireless speaker from Bose, Beats, or Jawbone, most of us don’t have that kind of money or can think of a lot better things to do with it. In this comparative review I tested 13 sub-$100 portable speakers that were well rated and appeared to be suitable for use in mobile ministry situations.
Testing included assessing portability/pocketability, comparing sound quality and volume, checking for compatibility issues in pairing the speakers with various phones and tablets, accounting for battery life, grading how “flashy” the device was (lots of chrome, flashing lights, audio beeps and bops is not something you always want when serving in impoverished and high crime areas), and weighing the value of various extra features like waterproofing, built-in microphone, carrying case, etc.
Here are my top picks and you can find the comprehensive specs and ratings for each of the tested devices in this Google Doc.
Editor’s Choice- Pocket Speaker
Once you get past the fact that the speaker feels like it is made out of depleted uranium (it is quite heavy for its size) and turn it on you’ll find yourself very impressed by the volume and quality of audio coming out of this pocket powerhouse. Another unique and beneficial plus for the SHARKK is that it has a microSD card reader slot which means you can put a memory card into it and play audio directly from the speaker with no need for any external device.
****UPDATE 10/18/13**** I am in the process of testing the Divoom Bluetooth Bean speaker and it seems to be a near equal to the SHARKK, with just slightly lower audio quality and no microSD card slot BUT it is a device that is more easily pocketable and seems slightly more rugged (I feel like you might need to "baby" the SHARKK somewhat) so I would recommend it over the SHARKK for someone who wants to regularly have a speaker with them either in their pocket or clipped on to their backpack, etc.
Editor’s Choice- Portable Speaker
Logitech UE Mobile Boombox ($90)
***UPDATE 10/11/13*** An updated version has just been released with 1/3 greater volume and 50 ft. Bluetooth range rather than 33 ft.- Logitech Ultimate Ears Mini Boom ($99). The original has dropped to $78!
This is a top pick for people who want to go out to the village on market day and have their audio heard amidst and perhaps even above all the cacophony. While you need to manage your expectations somewhat (after all, this thing is so small it can fit into pants pockets if you really want it to) you get pretty amazing volume and audio quality from this speaker. When you can bring your speaker in a backpack or bag this should be your go-to device. I purchased mine “manufacturer refurbished” and there are a number available on sites like Amazon and eBay for $65-70. The $30 Goal Zero 90401 Rockout actually scored out higher than this speaker BUT the ease of use that a wireless speaker brings with it when sharing media makes this my top pick over the Rockout. The Photive Cyren scored nearly as high as Logitech UE Mobile Boombox and was only $50 BUT I had problems getting the Cyren to pair with both an iPod Touch as well as an iPhone so I definitely don’t recommend it for Apple fanboys and fangirls.
***UPDATE 10/22/13*** After hearing good things about it I obtained the Sykik Box speaker and tested it and, in the scoring, the Sykik Box tied the score of the Logitech speakers. The main reason it scored so high was value- the Sykik Box is only $35 while the Logitech speaker is $99. That said, I much prefer the audio quality of the Logitech speakers and wonder a bit about the build quality of the Sykik. It is advertised as being weatherproof but the rubber seal for the charging and audio-in ports seems pretty useless so I wouldn't test its waterproofing too far. All in all, if you want a high quality speaker and can afford the price go for either of the Logitech models and if your budget is a bit more limited you can check out the Sykik Box but I'd probably steer you towards the Sharkk model above or, for better audio at the cost of larger size, the Goal Zero Rockout which would have outscored the Sykik and Logitech speakers had it had Bluetooth (see below).
Best Boom for Your Buck- Pocket Speaker
This speaker is wonderfully small and light and packs a decent volume even if the overall sound quality leaves something to be desired. If price and portability are the primary factors in your choice of which speaker to get for mobile ministry this is the model you’re looking for. That said, be aware that bobbling this speaker and a phone or tablet attached together with its miniscule 4” (10cm) audio cable can be a real pain while you’re trying to find and share media on your device. The upside of not having wireless (Bluetooth) connectivity is that this speaker has a very long battery life.
Best Boom for Your Buck- Portable Speaker
Goal Zero 90401 Rockout ($30)
With just as much volume as the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox and only slightly worse audio quality this $30 speaker is a major bargain! That said, be aware that handling a tablet or phone and this speaker while the two are attached together with the Rockout’s 10” audio cable makes sharing media a bit more of a challenge than using a wireless connection which allows you either keep the speaker tucked away in a bag or set down somewhere up to 50 feet away. Another issue with the Rockout is the neon green bungie cord system on its case- way too much bling for my liking.
Most Likely to Keep Playing No Matter What Is Done to It
Grace Digital ECOXGEAR ECOXBT ($90-100)
Do you live in a rain forest or play your media in the middle of desert sandstorms? Are you a complete klutz and do drop tests on most of your belongings? If so, the Grace Digital ECOXGEAR ECOXBT is the perfect device for you. This fairly substantial device is waterproof (it even floats) and is rubber coated for increased durability. The volume on this device is also greater than that of the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox although the sound quality isn’t quite as high. So, if durability is key and you don’t mind giving up a bit more pack space to get that this is the speaker for you.
Best Overall Audio
While the Auvio didn’t score out the best as a portable mobile ministry speaker, it did impress me with the best combination of volume and sound quality of the entire lot. If you don’t mind the lack of extra features and a somewhat flashy design I would hurry over to Amazon and grab one of the last five that they have!
Front Left- X-mini II; Front Right- SHARKK; Back Left- X-mini UNO; Back Right- Alpatronix X-tra Strong
Left to Right- X-mini II; X-Mini Uno, SHARKK; Alpatronix X-tra Strong; AA Battery (the X-Minis compress down to less than half the height shown here when closed and the Alpatronix compresses slightly)
Front Row (left to right)- Urge Basics Soundbrick; Monster ClarityHD; Logitech UE Mobile Boombox
Middle Row (left to right)- Photive Cyren; OontZ Angle; Auvio
Back Row (left to right)- Goal Zero Rockout; Eton Rugged Rukus; Grace Digital ECOXGEAR ECOXBT